Little Simz doesn't like labels. Since the start of her career in 2010, the self-reliant 22-year-old emcee has dismissed the "female rapper" moniker. After getting nods for her awe-inspiring talent on tracks like "Dead Body", Simz was approached with offers from record companies but soon realized that she'd rather go the route of the independent artist, and have full control of her work.
"I think I came very close to falling in every type of box that they put me in," Simz told The FADER when she came by the office this week. "I felt like I was the only person fighting to not be in those boxes. And through the power of the universe and through the grace of God, it just wasn't in my calling to fit in those boxes."
With a tenacious do-for-self outlook, Simz self-promoted her music, toured, put out solid EPs and, in September 2015, debuted her first full-length project, A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons (it was issued via Simz's independent label, AGE 101). Now, with a blooming discography, praise from peers, and a devout fanbase, a thriving Simz plans to use the strong foundation she's built to take on whatever comes next.
During a chat with The FADER, the rapper shared some gems on how to launch your own music career while still staying true to who you are.
Self-awareness is definitely key. It definitely helps when you are self-aware and you know what you stand for. You don’t need to necessarily know what you want, because I think as you grow, that always changes. Well it did for me, at least. Knowing your worth is an important thing and having self-value. It's not just about making songs and putting them out.
Remember to stay focused on what matters
It's like, once you become a brand or a product or an entity or whatever it is you want to call it, the human aspect can get lost in it. I regained that by channelling all my energy into focusing on my music and my supporters, as opposed to everything else that comes with it. Because it really doesn't matter, you know. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't — it seems like it does. For me, at the end of the day it just boils down to my music, what I like, what I'm going through, what I want to talk about, and what I want to give to the people. Everything else will kind of fall into place.
Putting in work can be a sacrifice but is completely worth it in the end
I definitely sacrificed a lot of free time but, I suppose when you love something, it doesn't feel like a "sacrifice" in that sense. But when you love it so much and you want to do it, you just do it and you don't really complain. I wasn't upset about the fact that I didn't get to hang out with my friends as much as I'd liked to, because in the same breath, I like making music and I like practicing on my guitar. I like watching documentaries about the music business, and watching artists that I look up to. I like watching their interviews so when it's my time to do interviews, I know how to carry myself, or I know how to project my voice or get my point across and be heard clearly. These little things that didn't necessarily feel like practice just felt natural to do.
Connect with your fans by putting out music for free
The cool thing about putting out free music is that there's just no expectation. There's no expectation from the people, there's no expectation from me, like it just is what it is. I put it out — if you like it, great, if you don't, it's cool, you probably lost 30 minutes of your time, if that. Because of that, when you put it out and it's good, at least in my experience, I've found that when I've released projects, I've kind of made it so if you want to you can pay for it, but you don't have to. I've found that so many people have paid for my music even though it's there for free, like, they appreciate that a little bit more. So I like giving people the option. Which is cool and I think it's a clever way to grow your fanbase. It definitely helps with exposure and getting your name out.
Surround yourself with the people who know you best and be open to their opinions
My family's and friends' opinions always matter to me, because these are the people that I know have my best interest at heart and that would not lie to me. I'm never too big to listen or hear someone else's opinion on something whether or not I agree with it. But I'm always open to hear what people think, because essentially they're going to hear it with a different ear than I am. And no one's ear is perfect or right or wrong, it's just perception. I always make sure that I'm open to opinions that matter. But outside opinions, I'm not too concerned about because it's too many voices and too many voices that you didn't ask for.
And apply the gems they teach you
I will find myself in situations and something my mum said will jump at me and it's like, Alright, I feel you, mum. She always says, "Never say a bad word about anyone. Never like talk about any artist, just keep it sweet, everyone's who they are." I've found that to be such a key piece of advice because everyone's like really chatty and I'm not into that at all.
With every highlight that happens in my career, I’m able to say, ‘I done that. I made that happen.’
Get mentors that can help you navigate the industry
I've had people in the industry that have been mentors who I've gone to when shit's just getting to be too much. They just bring me back to a place of solitude. I feel like I cross paths with people all the time that teach me something so small, but depending on how I use that piece of information, it could really be a gem. So nothing really ever goes amiss. Some have taught me loads, some haven't taught me anything, some I've taught — it's just always an exchange.
Remember that your well being comes before the music
Check in with yourself. Sometimes I think when you work so much or you're always on the go, you can be so concerned about everything and everyone else apart from ourselves. I've come to a place where I don't want to feel like I'm always putting everything first and my health is suffering, or my well-being, or my mental state — that's not healthy. Sometimes the greatest songs stem from those places, some come from a place of heartache, or heartbreak, or whatever the situation. So it's not always a bad thing, but I think I'm just learning to check in with myself and just make sure that I'm good. I never want to walk into places and give off the wrong vibe, and people then think I'm stuck-up. I'm not that person. So I always just make sure I'm good and then it's cool, no one can tell me nothing.
Even if it means taking a few days off to get centered and motivated
I do this by disconnecting with things like out of office emails. [laughing] I'm not here for it. Just give me two or three days. After that, I tend to get a fire in my belly like Oh I miss working, I feel bummy, like, it's only been two days and I'm not doing anything, what is that? Then I know Okay, I'm good, I'm fired up, I can still continue, I can still work.
Believe that you can your own boss and start your own record label
Because why not? For me, speaking and for the majority of black kids, I'd always been told "No, no, no" or "You can't, can't, can't, can't" or "It's not possible, not possible," for the longest time. It just got to a place where it was so jarring and so boring. I was so sick and tired of being told the same thing over and over again. We're told too many times that we can only just be one thing. When asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up? Generically, there isn't just one answer—it varies. It could be multiple things, and so a label owner was never on the cards because for the longest time I was just that artist that wanted to be signed to a label, because that's what I'd been told is needed in order for you to make it.
With every highlight that happens in my career, I'm able to say, "I done that. I made that happen." With great people, a great manager and a great team and all these things it's "We've done that." That is so cool and it's done without necessarily conforming or compromising too much and I still own all my masters.
Use your resources finance your independent career
You can save, you can work a 9-to-5, you can apply for funds, for grants, which is what I've done, and I've been blessed enough to have that come through which has been a really great support. Networking is key, you'd be surprised. If your idea is really dope and it sounds like something cool to be a part of, people will want to be a part of it. I think people are always looking for something new to be involved in and something fresh. If you're in all the right places and you talk to the right people, it's possible that things will align. You could get an investor, but this is all research.
To understand how to do it on your own, make sure you study the business
Do your research. Take your time with it, but also, I think, it takes a lot of belief and I think that's the hardest thing. Because it seems so far away and so impossible and so like, "How am I gonna start a label? Where do you even begin to?" You just have to be a doer and do it. You have to weigh out your options, pros and cons, and do's and don't's. Seek advice and talk to people.